Queens parents, students and administrators offer mixed reaction after NYC lifts mask mandate in public schools

New York City public schools students will no longer have to wear masks in school as of March 7. (Photo via Getty Images)

Queens residents are expressing mixed reactions to the city lifting the controversial mask mandate in public schools across the city starting Monday, March 7.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced the news to no longer mandate mask wearing in NYC public schools on Sunday, Feb. 27. Adams said that since there has been a low level of risk and no unforeseen spikes in the past few weeks, he feels there is no reason to continue requiring masks in schools.

“Our schools have been among the safest places for our children since the beginning of the pandemic, and we will continue to make the proper public health decisions to keep our kids safe, including making masks available for any child or school staff member who wishes to continue wearing them,” Adams said.

This decision has resulted in a sigh of relief for some and outrage among others. One parent in Middle Village who wished to remain anonymous said that masks should have never been mandatory in the first place.

“[Masks] don’t provide enough benefit and only increased the levels of anxiety due to social conformity,” the parent said. 

Sandy Jimenez, who has a 9-year-old daughter at P.S. 199 Maurice A. Fitzgerald in Sunnyside, said she is extremely nervous about the safety and health of her child.

“I support the mask mandate. It keeps everybody safe,” Jimenez said. “There are so many people together in one place at the schools and you just don’t know the other people and what safety measures they are taking.”

Jimenez’s daughter, Emily, said that she never likes to take off her mask in public. 

“Students in my class have gotten coronavirus,” Emily said. “I had to get tested so many times at home. I will still wear a mask.”

Others feel that lifting school mask mandates is a step toward normalcy. Governor Kathy Hochul ended the mask mandate statewide on March 2, after observing COVID-19 data trends and consulting with health and education experts. 

“With more New Yorkers getting vaccinated, and the steady decline over the past several weeks in cases and hospitalizations from omicron, we are now entering a new phase of the pandemic. Because New Yorkers have stepped up, we can confidently remove the statewide mask requirement in our schools,” Governor Hochul said. “This is a huge step forward for our kids and communities and I am grateful to the students, educators and parents for their dedication to keeping us all safe — we’ve reached this milestone because of your hard work.”

New York currently has the highest rate of adults fully vaccinated. In New York City, about 86% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to city data. About 55% of children ages 5 to 17 are fully vaccinated. According to Hochul’s office, the state has experienced a 98% decline in COVID-19 cases since the omicron peak and a continuous downtrend in cases for 51 straight days. 

Jesse Pachter, an assistant principal and athletic director at Maspeth High School, said he could not be more excited to greet his students with a visible smile Monday morning. 

“I’m choosing to not wear a mask,” Pachter said. “I think that walking into school and seeing an administrator smiling at you can start your day on a good foot and some of these students haven’t been able to see that their entire high school experience.”

Pachter said he has gotten the sense that many of his students and faculty are excited to take their masks off come Monday.

“I think they’re excited about getting to see their friends and their teachers,” Pachter said. “I think being able to recognize facial expressions and getting to hear teachers more clearly is something that a lot of people are looking forward to.”

Despite many students and staff looking forward to returning to some normalcy, Pachter understands why some would still choose to keep their masks on and respects everybody’s decision.

One of his students, Veronica Witkowski, a senior at Maspeth High School, said that she will be keeping her mask on due to apprehensions and an immunocompromised family member. 

“Personally, I don’t mind wearing it,” Witkowski said. “I would rather look out for the health of my family and others. Everyone wants to get back to normal as soon as possible and so do I. But I would prefer to take more steps to be careful.”

Connie Altamirano, a community advocate and member of the Community Education Council 24, said that as someone who is immunocompromised and has a child with asthma, she does not support lifting the mask mandate.

“I support the mask mandate to protect our community and its most vulnerable members,” Altamirano said. “I know that my children will choose to continue wearing their masks. When my children feel ready and comfortable enough to stop wearing masks they will let me know and I will support them in their decision. However, I want to be clear that this is a decision that each family should have the right to make for themselves.”

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